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Date Lab: Their goodbye was one big miscommunication

Theo Leavell is 24 and works in international development. He is seeking someone “who’s witty, intense and empathetic, but who also knows how to make fun of me.” Anna Nguyen is 24 and a software engineer. She is looking for a “well-dressed … outgoing, open-minded” man. (Daniele Seiss)
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This was Anna Nguyen’s first date after she got out of a serious, long-distance relationship a few months ago. The 24-year-old, who applied along with friends, felt like Date Lab “kind of forced” her to go out, which she appreciated. “I’m a serial relationship person. I’ve never casually dated before,” the Georgia native said. “I always dated guys that I’ve been friends with first — and then one day romantic sparks would come up. It took being friends first, and then interest came later.” She’s drawn to a sharp-dressed man, and “flirtiness” is a must on a date.

Theo Leavell, 24, is “open to being in a relationship,” especially since settling in D.C. After moving around the past few years, he is ready to meet someone. The Wisconsin native described himself as a casual-dater in high school and college. “A lot of my friends had long-standing relationships, but I just really wanted to meet people — and understand myself and grow up before I tried to date someone long-term.”

Theo’s one serious relationship during college was sparked over their shared interests. “We met while volunteering, and we cared about doing something to make our community better,” he said. Theo, who works in international development, is drawn to lively, smart and determined women.

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We set the duo to meet at 5:30 p.m. at Mount Vernon Triangle’s Baan Siam, specializing in Thai fare. Anna got there a few minutes early, which she admitted is unusual for her. She could have slowed her roll, because Theo was running late. When he realized he wasn’t going to be on time if he waited for an Uber, the biking enthusiast hopped on a bike.

Although it made for a speedier arrival — he was only 10 minutes late — it also made for a bumpy start. “He came in and was super out of breath,” said Anna. “He couldn’t say anything, he was so out of breath.” She thought he was friendly and “well dressed.” But “I was expecting a hug to say hello, especially on a first date, but he was just like ‘Hey’ when he first came in,” she said. Theo’s first impression: “She was very nice, very pretty and easy to talk to.”

Theo told me he had looked up the menu ahead of time and knew exactly what he was going to order: khao soi, a noodle and broth dish. For Anna, who needed to consider the offerings, it was an uncomfortable moment at the table. “I had to just awkwardly hold the menu by myself. He just sat there in silence and I had the menu open. I tried to talk, but it was a weird vibe,” she told me.

Date Lab: An awkward exchange kicked off the evening

The energy loosened up as they sipped their first round of lychee martinis, munched on apps and talked about their interests. Theo was excited about how much they had in common. “We both like the band Hippo Campus and had been at the same concert,” he said. “We also both play pickup soccer and talked a lot about hiking. I told her to check out Shenandoah.” Anna agreed that they had a lot in common, but felt that they “scratched the surface on everything, but we didn’t get too deep.”

Over dinner and another round of martinis, they chatted about their families, work and school. The only disconnect Theo noticed was when he asked Anna, a software engineer, if she had plans to go to graduate school. “She said ‘I don’t think I’ll need to do that.’ I guess for me it’s this ingrained ‘Go to grad school and get a good job’ mind-set.” He went on to say, “But that may be more of a reflection of my own insecurity.”

Their meal ended at 8 p.m., and as they went their separate ways, Anna got a bit miffed by how things ended. “He said, ‘I’d like to see you again, but that’s your prerogative.’ I said, 'That’d be great, I had a good time.’ Then we hugged, but he didn’t get my number,” she told me, noting he left before her ride arrived.

I, too, was confused, so I asked, “He left before your Uber came?” Anna explained she told him, “ ‘You don’t have to wait if you don’t want to.’ And he left before my Uber arrived. I don’t know how I came off. I was going to give him my number to hang out as a friend. But then he just left.”

Date Lab: Ghosts were the surprising subject of the night

Theo agreed that things ended awkwardly. I asked him why he didn’t ask for her number, and he replied, “I feel like when someone says, ‘I’d love to see you again,’ the other person would then say, ‘Let’s exchange contact information.’ But she didn’t do that.”

Anna said she was surprised at how much they had in common. “It’s hard to find people who like exactly everything that I like. Before the date I thought that would be nice, but now I think it’d be nice to find someone who is not completely like me.”

Rate the date

Anna: 3.5 [out of 5.] “There wasn’t any joking or flirting going on. I felt like I was meeting a potential new friend.”

Theo: 4. “We had a lot in common and it was a good time.”


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Vijai Nathan is a writer and comedian in Washington.

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